THE ADVENTURES OF THE "SON OF BAD COUNSEL."

From Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts by Patrick Kennedy

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The next tale cannot boast of a very remote origin in its present form, having been written in the beginning of the last century, but it is an adaptation of one as old as the times of paganism. These ancient fictions, when thoroughly abandoned to a traditional existence, passing from the mouths of one generation of story-tellers to the ears of their successors, or even left to the mercy of careless and ignorant scribes, suffered considerable damage. We find in those that have been preserved by the peasantry passages in the worst taste, grotesque, extravagant, and unintentionally ludicrous, which never were uttered by the educated and really gifted bards, who found a welcome in the hall of chief or king, or at the public assembly.

We do not make this remark in a fault-finding spirit with our peasantry. They have saved a great number of legends peculiar to themselves, as well as the fairy and household stories, which are the common property of most of the countries of Europe.

We conclude the present section with

THE ADVENTURES OF THE "SON OF BAD COUNSEL."

The tale, of which the following is an abridgment, was composed in mixed prose and verse by Brian Dhu O'Reilly,[1] who was living in Cavan about the year 1725. The original title is Eachtra mhic na Miochomhairle. Our plan allows admission but to a few of the adventures. The hero tells the tale in his own person, and it must be owned that his is a very rambling mode of fixing his hearer's interest. You would suppose at first that his meeting with a lovely fairy and their subsequent courtship would be the central group of his fortunes; but after singing her glorious form and features, and the splendour of the surrounding landscape, in the most florid Irish poesy, night comes on, and he is obliged to seek for shelter in the castle of a Gruagach (giant, enchanter; Breton, groac'h). Here is a taste of the original, literally translated:--

"On the sun going to his bed I knew not what place, what land,
What district I was in, on the earth or above.
My eyes to the four quarters of the sky I cast round,
And by the roadside I there saw the beautiful Sighe.

"I approached her, though arduous and bold was the deed:
Seated on the bank, like an angel she seemed.
Her silky sweet shape not bony nor angular,
Like the blossoms of the berry her fair-coloured breasts."

The "Son of Bad Counsel" was evidently very whimsical and fickle-minded; he turned from the lovely fairy beauty at once to sing the glory of the landscape.

"The like of that land I've not seen nor heard of,
For amenity, for goodness, for its clear flowing streams;
Dew-drops of honey on all the tree branches,
And the bee's humming music was heard without pause."

Dark stormy night came on the landscape. No more is heard of the fairy belle, and the Son of Bad Counsel somehow found himself before a castle, the beauties of which he described in poetic language. Entering, he found the Gruagach master, "strong, truly powerful, ruddy in countenance, and clad in silken robes." And on the right hand of the Gruagach, on a chair of burnished gold, was his lady daughter, beauteous, gentle, honest, unexceptionable in her attire, musical in voice and compassionate, young, glorious, sweet-spoken, lightsome, like a shining diamond, a harvest moon, a morning sun, a heavenly angel. Her eyes were gray and thoughtful, like the gleaming sparkling stars of a hard frosty night. Her golden, curling hair was divided, and hung on each side like bunches of clustering grapes. Her robe was of silk, gracefully covering her beautiful figure, and an ornamented brooch glittered on her bosom, and on her knee was a hand-harp (Cruith), from which she was drawing sweet sounds.[2]

The hero of the story was an arrant coward, as well as a poet; but he plucked up courage to address the host, who, after all, was not very formidable in appearance:--

"King of the globe, fair is this place which I have come to--
A royal fort, white-boarded, erected as the abode of Maev;
Like unto the Dun Aileach, it is similar to Paradise,
And I am not certain that it is not in a court I am truly.

"More delightful is this sight than Tara and Naas together,
And than the three branches in Emania, [3] once held by the hero Dairg,
My journey I arrest till I know who dwells here."

The richly dressed Gruagach made a suitable reply:--"Long it is since we saw a person or people before you, who could afford us joy or pleasure" (they were apparently not aware of his cowardice and general worthlessness), "and long were we expecting you, for we have neither children nor heirs, but that daughter you see before you; and we have nursed and nobly reared her from her infancy for you to be your wife and companion." "By your hand," was the ready answer, "if I had known so much--but how could I? It is I that would have searched the four quarters of the globe for her sweet self, even to the loss of my life."

Then the Gruagach arose, and bade the guest take his golden chair; and then he began his own particular grievances, and the service he required at the hands of his future son-in-law before the silken-attired lady could become his wife.

It seemed that Trom Ceo Draochta (Heavy Enchanted Fog), the fairy chief residing at Din Aoilig, had stolen the two sons of the King of the Isle of the Living, as he had no heirs to enjoy his power. Ruan Luimneach, a powerful Sighe chief, a neighbour of him of the Isle of the Living, on hearing of this wrong, summoned all his subjects of the Western World to assemble, and attack the Fog-chief in his stronghold, and rescue the sons of his friend. Heavy Magic Fog, on hearing of the projected attack on Din Aoilig, summoned his confederates to his aid. Among these were Donn Ceiv Fionn from Magh Hi in Conacht, Donn Feirine O'Conail from Knocfierna, and Donn Binné Eachla labhra (The Lord of the Hill of the Speaking Horse [4]), Gilla Brighid O'Faolan, a Sighe gaoithe (Fairy Blast) from the Decies, and Gilla Fiamach O'Doran, Chief of Ceibhfion.[5]

"I was also summoned among these chiefs," continued the master, "and my footmen and my horsemen departed yesterday to Din Aoilig, and I myself wall follow to-morrow. I did not go with my people, for I expected you; and if your feats of valour deserve the hand of my daughter, my daughter shall be your wife on our return. If you fall, a mighty mound shall cover your remains, your caoine shall be said by eloquent and very famous fileas, and your name, and your ancestors, and your deeds engraved on the Oghuim stone."

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NOTES

[1] Some give the credit of it to that loose fish, Carroll O'Daly.

[2] A profusion of epithets nearly synonymous often occurs in Irish poetry and romance. It arises from the richness of the language in words of the same or nearly the same meaning, and the temptation thrown in the way of the poet by alliteration.

[3] Maev, the Semiramis of the Royal Court of Conacht. Aileach, the Great Stone Fortress in the north-east of Donegal. Naas, once the residence of the kings of Leinster. Emania, the Court of Ulster, whose ruins are yet to be seen near Armagh. Red Branch, an order of knighthood there established.

[4] Scholars who insist on beast-worship among the pagan Irish, adduce this tradition in support of their views. At every midsummer festival of the sun, this Each Labhra would issue from his mound, and give full and true answers to all who consulted him on the occurrences that would take place up to the next summer festival.

[5] As in our country parts, Caesar, Pincher, Juno, and other favourite dogs enjoy the surnames of the families whom they serve, so we find here the fairy chiefs called by the names of the old families whose districts they frequented, and whose deceases they marked by their lamentations. The O'Dorans were Brehons to the kings of South Leinster. Gilla Brighid O'Faolan, St. Bridgid's servant (now Kilbride), would otherwise have been a strange name for a fairy chief.



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